Henry Buford Perry was born on January 18, 1920 in Columbia, South Carolina to Mary A. Jackson Perry and Reverend Robert N Perry Sr. His father was a Vicar at Thomasville, Georgia’s Good Shepherd Episcopal Church and the Parochial School. Perry was the youngest of five siblings, our brothers and a sister.
Perry attended Thomasville, Georgia’s Douglas High School, and graduated in 1937. He proceeded to St. Augustine’s University (North Carolina) in Raleigh, North Carolina and graduated in 1941. While in university, he was a member of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, a Christian students’ organization founded to counter the segregation of black students, raising the sights of black youths and stimulating them to accomplishments higher than might otherwise be realized or even imagined.
In 1942, Perry volunteered for the U.S. Army Air Corps. He was one of the initial 450 pilots trained at Tuskegee institute, and among the 1,007 documented Tuskegee Airmen pilots. He graduated from the Tuskegee Flight School’s Single Engine Section Class SE-42-H on September 6, 1942. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant.
Perry was a P-51 Mustang fighter pilot, under the command of General Benjamin O. Davis Jr. in the 332nd fighter squadron. The U.S. Army Air Corps assigned Perry to the 99th Fighter Squadron and he was among the initial cadre of pilots to join the 99th Fighter Squadron in Licata, Sicily.
Col. Perry flew 102 combat missions in the European Theater and Mediterranean during World War II. He had 2.5 aerial kills and earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for aerial action on 18 July 1944, and the Air Medal with six Oak Leaf Clusters.
After WWII, the US Air Force transferred Col. Perry and three other army officers to Arizona’s Williams AFB to train jet pilots. Perry became one of the first African American fighter jet pilots from Thomasville, Georgia and fighter jet pilot instructors.
He was also Air Force commander in Alaska, a Commander and Deputy Wing Commander, and Command Staff Operations Officer. Perry later became Tuskegee Air Force Field’s Director of Single Engine Advanced Training and its Air ROTC instructor (Reserve Officer Training Corps). He also served as a flight instructor and Director of Training and Analysis at Williams Field in Arizona. After serving as the Director of the Combat Operations Center, Perry retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Colonel after 28 years in the military.
Perry was married to Harlene Anderson Perry, a teacher/librarian, University of Kansas and Lincoln University alumni/1951 Homecoming Queen, and member of Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority. They had one daughter, Dr. Lisa Perry-Gilkes, and two grandsons.
Col. Henry Buford Perry died on January 1, 1995 at the age of 74. His resting place is Arlington National Cemetery.